U.S. Envoy Says Detainee Abuse Was Worse Than Described


New York Times

December 14, 2005

RAMADI, Iraq, Dec. 13 - The American ambassador in Iraq said today that more than 100 detainees had been abused in two Iraqi detention facilities, more than had been previously disclosed.

Also today, just ahead of nationwide elections, a Sunni Arab candidate was shot and killed, and the American military said four soldiers were killed just north of Baghdad.

The ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, was speaking at a news conference in Baghdad just days before the country goes to the polls on Thursday to select a full-term government. Early voting started on Monday for soldiers, hospital patients, prisoner detainees and Iraqis abroad.

Mr. Khalilzad was asked about two Iraqi detention facilities from which some detainees had been transferred to the hospital, and to comment on remarks from some Iraqi interior ministry officials characterizing the handling of the detainees as slapping. Mr. Khalilzad said he has received reports that pointed to more extreme treatment.

In an investigation that followed the discovery in November of the first detention center, called Jadriya, "it was determined that over 100 of them were abused," he said, according to a transcript of his remarks released later. He said that close to 170 people had been held there.

Another facility inspected three days ago was, according to reports he had received, "overcrowded and not in good conditions."

"I have seen figures that said 21 or 26 people who were assumed to have been abused," he said.

"I think I can say that based on reports that I have received, that it was, many instances with regard to the over hundred that we talked about it, was far worse than slapping around," Mr. Khalilzad said.

His remarks were the latest this week to touch on the sensitive subject of how Iraqi officials are handling detainees. He called the abuse "unacceptable" and said the Americans would henceforth put officers with Iraqi forces to observe how raids are carried out and people are taken into custody.

The Iraqi Interior Ministry insisted Monday that none of the 625 prisoners discovered last week had been tortured or abused, despite previous assertions by American officials to the contrary.

On Nov. 15, American soldiers entered an Interior Ministry basement and found 169 malnourished prisoners, some of whom, the Americans said, had been tortured. Most of those prisoners were Sunni Arabs.

Last week, the surprise American-Iraqi search of the second detention center, which was run by an Iraqi commando unit attached to the Iraqi Interior Ministry, resulted in the discovery of an even larger number of prisoners.

An American official said the Americans and the Iraqis had found severely overcrowded conditions at the prison, with 13 of the prisoners in such bad shape that they needed to be hospitalized. Today Mr. Khalilzad increased that number to 20 or more.

The exact nature of the maltreatment of the hospitalized prisoners remained unclear.

In an interview, Sami al-Anbagi, director general of the Interior Ministry, said there had been "no mistreatment or torture."

"Only a few guys were slapped on their faces," Mr. Anbagi said. "The prisoners who were taken to the hospital didn't have any serious injuries. They suffered from headaches only."

He did not elaborate on that point but added: "What do you want policemen to do after their colleagues have been attacked? Policemen die everyday because of those guys."

A spokesman for the American command disputed Mr. Anbagi's account, saying the physical condition of the prisoners who were hospitalized was worse than what Mr. Anbagi had described.

"These were very real medical conditions that needed immediate attention," said the spokesman, Lt. Col. Barry Johnson. "There were U.S. forces that provided medical attention on the scene and that transported them to the hospital."

In recent weeks, Sunni Muslim Arabs have charged that commando units working for the Interior Ministry have been carrying out killings and illegal abductions, and that they are abusing and torturing prisoners. Some Sunni leaders contend that the Interior Ministry has incorporated large numbers of Shiite militiamen into the police forces, and that those men are waging a campaign of terror in Sunni areas.

On the spate of killings today, a Sunni Arab candidate in the elections was shot and killed, an interior ministry spokesman said, and the American military reported that four soldiers were killed today by a homemade bomb.

The candidate, Mizhar Al-Dulaimi, was on his way to visit relatives in this city in the volatile Anbar province. Mr. Dulaimi is a businessman in his fifties known for his strong support for Iraqi resistance, and also for his ties to a prominent group of Sunni clerics, called the Muslim Scholars Association. He also took part, as a prominent Sunni Arab politician, in a reconciliation conference in Cairo last month of Iraqi political factions.

It was not clear who Mr. Dulaimi's attackers were. A friend accompanying him was wounded.

The American military said in a statement that the four soldiers, from Task Force Baghdad, were killed when their patrol struck the bomb northwest of Baghdad, but it gave no further details.

Jihadist groups have warned Iraqis against taking any part in the political process, although the Muslim Scholars Association said earlier this month that it would not call for a boycott of Thursday's election, as it had last January.

At one time Mr. Dulaimi lived in Paris before moving to Cairo. He gave several television interviews recently, the last of which was shown on Al-Arabiya, when he accused Shiites of trying to fabricate a security case and arrest him after the Cairo conference.

In addition, a roadside bomb exploded that was meant to hit the convoy of a Shiite member of the National Assembly, Sheik Jalal Eddin al-Sagheer, who was elected with the governing United Iraqi Alliance, The Associated Press reported. The Iraqi army said the explosion in Latifiyah, about 20 miles south of Baghdad, damaged one of the vehicles, the A.P. said.

Despite the deep, sectarian suspicions aroused by the Shiite-run detention centers, political conditions appear to be set for a huge nationwide vote on Thursday, and American and Iraqi officials say they are anticipating a higher participation rate than the 64 percent turnout in the constitutional referendum in October.

The Sunni Arab leadership, which boycotted the elections in January, has universally urged its constituents to vote in order to increase their representation in parliament.

More than 1,000 Sunni clerics issued a religious edict urging Sunni Arabs to vote, according to the A. P. report today.

Top American and Iraqi security officials say that they have refined their electoral security measures over the course of the year and that they feel confident that the voting will be relatively quiet. While election day in January was the single most violent day in Iraq since the invasion, insurgents were mostly held in check on the day of the constitutional referendum in October, with only 18 polling centers coming under attack, mainly by mortar fire and drive-by shootings, said Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, a top American military spokesman in Iraq.

The government on Monday announced a series of measures intended to control violence this week, including prohibiting the carrying of weapons, declaring a national holiday from Tuesday to Thursday, closing the borders, extending a nighttime curfew, restricting domestic travel and banning the movement of vehicles from Wednesday to Saturday morning.

Additionally, there will be more troops than ever deployed throughout the country, including 160,000 Americans and about 225,000 Iraqis, up from 200,000 Iraqis in October and 138,000 in January, General Lynch said in an interview in Baghdad last week.

In the vicinity of polling places, Iraqi and American officials plan to use the same general system of security that they refined in the October referendum. The Iraqi police will guard the entrances of the sites while Iraqi Army troops will provide a close cordon of security. American forces, meanwhile, will form a loose outer cordon, conducting light patrols and serving as a quick reaction force in the event of an emergency.

On Monday, five Islamic militant groups, including Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, issued a rare joint statement on the Internet in which they denounced the elections as a "crusaders' project" in violation of Islamic law. But unlike statements before national elections in January and the constitutional referendum in October, the message did not threaten disruption of this elections.

However, insurgents in this city on the Euphrates River in the heart of this Province, the Sunni Arab stronghold, have distributed fliers threatening residents with death if they go to the polls. Similar menacing messages have been posted on walls in towns in western Anbar, according to a Western diplomat who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation.

As a reflection of the continuing threat of violence in Anbar, electoral officials anticipate opening only 154 of 207 planned polling places in the province, according to Safwat Rashid Sidqi, a member of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq. "The reason is security, only security," he said in an interview.

American officials hope that widespread Sunni Arab participation will help to deflate the Sunni-backed insurgency and give more legitimacy to the new parliament.

Elections officials say an improved security situation will permit the opening of about 500 more polling centers than in October, bringing the total to 6,300.

Kirk Semple reported from Ramadi and Christine Hauser reported from New York. Dexter Filkins contributed reporting from Baghdad for this article.